It’s hard to believe, but it was more than ten years that OFW Juana Tejada died of colon cancer in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She was just 39 years old.
Juana Tejada became the voice of tens of thousands of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who came to Canada under the now-defunct Live-In Caregiver Program (LCP).
THOUSANDS OF OFWS GO TO CANADA AS CAREGIVERS
In the late 2000, Canada became the destination of choice for many OFWs. Canadian families with children, elderly and disabled family members sought permission from the Government of Canada to hire foreign workers to work as caregivers in their home.
The work was difficult, with long hours and minimum wage. Nevertheless, Filipinos came in large numbers under the program, all because of one reason: the program gave them a pathway to permanent residency.
Tejada arrived in Canada in 2003 through the LCP.
LOW SKILLED WORK ALLOWED OFWS TO APPLY FOR PERMANENT RESIDENCY
The program, which gives OFWs the opportunity to apply for permanent residency after meeting the minimum requirements of the program, including background checks and medical exams.
At the time, OFWs had to submit to two medical exams, one before going to Canada, and another as part of the permanent residency application.
It was during the second medical exam that Tejada was diagnosed with colon cancer.
Shortly after her diagnosis, a removal order was issued by Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC). Her cancer had identified her as a “health burden” to the Canadian public health system.
CIC REVERSES ORIGINAL DECISION, GRANTS PR TO TEJADA
After extensive lobbying on the part of the Filipino community in Toronto, CIC officials reversed their original decision and granted Tejada permanent residency.
Already seriously ill, Tejada continued to lobby for change in the LCP, to convince the Government of Canada to remove the second medical exam requirement.
Tejada’s sister, Berna, was also in Canada under the LCP. She remembers one of the last times she went out with her sister, watching Sharon Cuneta’s movie Caregiver.
FRIENDS AND FAMILY REMEMBER JUANA TEJADA
“She was a very good sister. She sacrificed her whole life for us. She sent us to high school and college, so we could have an education,” she told the Toronto Star.
Tejada passed away on March 8, 2009 at the Toronto General Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. Her husband, Noli Azada was at her bedside at the time of her passing. He was granted a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) by CIC to join her in Canada. They had planned to take a trip back to the Philippines to visit family when she passed away.
Tejada inspired a grassroots campaign in Canada, lobbying for reforms to the LCP. She helped found the United Steelworkers’ Independent Workers Association.
Connie Sorio told the Toronto Star at the time that she admired her friend for her courage and steadfastness.
“Even though she was bedridden, when we asked her if she was ready to go, she said, `No. Juana was reserved and had very few words, but she would be most remembered for her fighting spirit,” Sorio said.
MEETING JUANA TEJADA IN TORONTO
We had actually met Juana Tejada more than ten years ago. At the time, she was surrounded by members of the Filipino community.
No matter where she went, there was always a group of people surrounding her. Tejada herself struck us as quiet and reserved.
When she passed, we paid a visit at the DeMarco Funeral Home on Keele St. We were there at the same time as consular officials from the Philippine Consulate General and the Philippine Overseas Labour Office in Toronto paid their last respects to the deceased OFW.
Ten years later, OFWs continue to come to Canada, although no longer in the large numbers as they did during the height of the LCP.
OFWs who were in the program have already sponsored their family members, with many of them already having become Canadian citizens since.
REFORMS MADE TO CAREGIVER PROGRAM
Shortly after granting Juana Tejada permanent residency, the Government of Canada eliminated the second medical examination requirement, making it discretionary.
The Government of Canada closed down the LCP for good, amidst report of abuse by Canadian employers and unscrupulous third party representatives like immigration consultants and lawyers.
Juana Tejada is remembered by the Filipino community in Toronto, who dedicated a special prayer room at the Our Lady of Assumption Church on Bathurst St. in Toronto.
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